Loyola’s Center for Criminal Justice is collaborating with Winnebago County and the City of Rockford on a process and impact evaluation of their local Focused Deterrence Program. Located within 100 miles of Chicago and Milwaukee and along I-90 (a regional drug corridor), Rockford perennially makes headlines for being among the most violent small cities in the United States. Analyses of FBI UCR data show that in 2020, the violent crime rate in Rockford was 1,441 per 100,000 residents, exceeding Chicago’s violent crime rate of 982 per 100,000 residents. The rate of ER admissions in Rockford due to firearm deaths and injuries is also high (55.6 per 100,000) and comparable to that seen in Chicago (68.4 per 100,000).
The Focused Deterrence program is one of many policy efforts that Winnebago County has implemented to address these high rates of violence. The Center’s partnership with Winnebago County and the city of Rockford began in 2017 when the Center helped establish the Winnebago Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and evaluated the pilot version of this program, which ran from January 2018 to November 2019. The Focused Deterrence program is unique in that it utilizes a “pulling-levers” approach to identify and deter members of the community at a heightened risk of committing (or being a victim of) acts of street and gun violence, responding with a blend of traditional law enforcement strategies with the provision of social services. Our evaluation of the pilot program showed promise: 88% of the 74 pilot participants engaged in social services through the program’s Navigator, 78% were not booked on charges for new violent crimes, and 65% were not booked for any new crimes between 2018 and June 2020.
In October of 2021, the Focused Deterrence program was implemented for a second time with funding to continue for a four-year period. With the second implementation of the program, adjustments were made in response to suggestions from the Center’s pilot evaluation, including the adoption of a standardized risk assessment instrument by the parole department and the hiring of an Assistant State’s Attorney dedicated to the court processing of Focused Deterrence participants. The goal of this report is to share the emerging findings from roughly the first year of the current Focused Deterrence program (October 2021-January of 2023).
Data for the Center’s current analyses came from administrative records, circuit court case records, and reports from the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office. The data also includes 12 interviews with program stakeholders, including representatives from the Rockford Police Department, the Winnebago County Adult Probation Department, the Illinois Department of Corrections’ parole office operating in Winnebago County, the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Navigator, and a representative of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Three interviews with program participants were also conducted.
Focused Deterrence Approach
The Focused Deterrence program is an evidence-based intervention designed to reduce crime by focusing criminal justice and community resources individuals at the highest risk of committing gun violence. Deterrence theory argues that the likelihood of committing a crime can be reduced if the consequences of that crime are seen as swift, certain, and fair. The focused deterrence approach applies this theory by transparently communicating to high-risk individuals that they will receive increased attention from the justice system in the detection of and response to any crimes they commit. Focused deterrence is also known as a “pulling levers” approach: targeted individuals are warned, in effect, that the system will “pull” every available “lever” to hold them accountable for future crimes. Importantly, the focused deterrence approach is also a “blended strategy” in that it relies on the resources of social services and the community as well as law enforcement to address violent crime. Along with deterrent messaging, the Focused Deterrence program offers participants the opportunity to work with a Navigator, a justice impacted member of the community and the director of a local non-profit serving high-risk, high-needs individuals impacted by incarceration. The Navigator provides case-management services that include working with participants to set goals related to risk factors associated with recidivism (e.g. employment, education, peer relationship), providing social and material support for achieving those goals and referring participants to needed services.
A key component of the focused deterrence approach in Winnebago County is the “Call-In” meeting, during which 12 individuals at high-risk of committing gun violence entering the program are “called in” to receive deterrent messaging and the offer of social support and services. During these meetings, members of local government (e.g. the Mayor of Rockford, the Winnebago County Board Chairman), representatives of the criminal justice system (e.g. the Chief of the Rockford Police Department, the Winnebago County Sheriff, an Assistant United States’ Attorney), community members impacted by gun violence, and the Navigator directly address participants. They inform participants that “the violence must stop” and that the local criminal justice agencies will swiftly arrest and prosecute those who are non-compliant with the terms of their supervions, who engage in any acts of future violence (particularly gun violence) and/or who possesses a gun illegally. The speakers also inform participants that the partners are invested in providing them with special resources (i.e. the Navigator), and directly appeal to participants to take advantage of these resources to help them avoid violence and achieve life goals.
Aligning with evidence-based practice, the Focused Deterrence approach focuses on people at the highest risk of committing gun violence. To ensure participants have been identified as high-risk on a standardized risk assessment tool and to provide the legal structure necessary to compel attendance at the Call-In, only individuals who are on community supervision (probation or MSR/parole) are eligible to participate in the program. Limiting the participants to those on community supervision, a unique feature of Winnebago County’s approach to focused deterrence, also facilitates the extent to which participants who commit additional offenses are met with swift response by the criminal justice system.
Participants are selected by the program’s Operations Team, which is composed of representatives from the Winnebago County Chairman’s Office of Criminal Justice Initiatives, the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Winnebago County Adult Probation Department, the Rockford Police Department, the Illinois Department of Corrections’ parole office operating in Winnebago County, and the Navigator. Every quarter, parole and probation submit lists of potential participants who meet high-risk criteria for consideration by the Operations Team. The team aims to select high risk gun offenders (i.e., those with cases of illegal possession of a firearm or the use of a firearm in the commission of a violent offense) who were recently put on probation or released onto parole and who are not involved in other local intervention programs. The team also considers age, with younger adults prioritized for the program. Individuals are excluded from selection if they are actively under investigation for any crimes or if they have serious mental health or substance abuse challenges that would impact their participation in the program or be better served by other programming. Currently the program is only serving adults on probation or released onto parole, not juveniles.
Between October of 2021 and January of 2023, 77 people were selected for the program and mandated to attend one of six Call-In meetings held at a local social service organization that offers services for people in crisis, including shelter meals and programming. Of the 77 people selected, a total of 66 participants attended either a Call-In meeting or a Custom Notification meeting. A Custom Notification is a more intimate meeting in the participant’s home, where the same deterrent messages of the Call-In are delivered by the participant’s probation officer or parole agent and an offer of social services is delivered by the Navigator.. Custom Notifications are scheduled if the participant is unable to attend the Call-In due to an excused schedule conflict or safety concerns.
Each of the Call-In meetings had between 10 and 12 participants in attendance, which is on track with the program’s attendance goals. The 11 individuals who were selected for the program but failed to attend the mandated Call-In or Custom Notification were sanctioned by parole (with 60 days of electronic monitoring) or probation (with an additional required court appearance). These individuals are not considered part of the program as they did not receive either the deterrent messaging or the access to services.
Of the 66 program participants, the majority (71%) are on MSR and about a quarter (24%) are on probation. Three people (4.5%) are on both parole and probation. Nearly all participants are men (65 out of 66 participants) and most are Black men, who make up 76% of participants on MSR and 75% of participants on probation. The participants from parole were slightly older than those on probation, with an average age of 28 and 24, respectively. Overall, participant risk scores reflect that the program is successfully targeting high-risk individuals, and the prevalence of gun crimes (i.e., illegal possession or use in a crime) among the prior offenses of participants is consistent with the program’s goals. Participants on parole were identified as high-risk with an average score of 42 on an internal risk assessment tool developed by the Illinois Department of Corrections’ Parole Division to determine supervision level (anything over 24 is considered maximum risk). Participants on probation were also identified as moderate to high-risk, with an average score of 24 on the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS) (anything over 15 is considered high risk). The most common sentencing offense for the parole participants was illegal possession of a firearm (58%), followed by violent offenses, most of which involved guns (36%). A small number of participants on parole (6%) were convicted of a drug-delivery offense. All of the probation participants were convicted of illegal possession of a firearm. Among the 3 participants on both parole and probation, 2 were sentenced for firearm possession and 1 was sentenced for a violent offense (aggravated battery).
Most program participants are from Rockford’s West and Northwest sides, with 59% of participants living in just 3 zip codes out of the 14 total zip codes in Rockford. This is a higher level of neighborhood concentration among program participants than is found among the wider population under probation or parole supervision in Rockford, highlighting a pattern of geographical clustering among the program’s target population.
Coordinating Criminal Justice Agencies and Community Providers
The current iteration of the Focused Deterrence program has demonstrated a high level of coordination in the first year of implementation. This is no small feat, given that Winnebago County’s Focused Deterrence program’s Operations Team includes representatives from criminal justice agencies across multiple levels and branches of government, as well as the Navigator. The Operations Team has worked together to ensure that Focused Deterrence participants are provided with services that match their criminogenic needs, that information about new violations or new charges is quickly shared between the involved criminal justice agencies and the Navigator, and that violations and new charges are processed efficiently through the court system.
In addition to the quarterly selection meetings where future participants are chosen, the Operations team meets every month to discuss existing participants’ progress through the program, including their engagement with the Navigator and any arrests or supervision violations. These monthly operations meetings also serve as a time for the team to address any programmatic challenges. In between these monthly meetings, the Operations Team regularly shares information about participants’ programmatic activities and any potential criminal activity via a secure, online platform.. All program participants on probation are assigned to one probation officer, who meets regularly with their Supervisor and the Navigator to coordinate the provision of services and to ensure each participant on probation is provided with aid that addresses their criminogenic needs and supervision requirements. Due to shifts in staffing and resources since the pilot phase, no equivalent arrangement is possible in the Illinois Department of Corrections’ parole office operating in Winnebago County, so Focused Deterrence participants on parole are assigned to multiple officers.
A key component of the Focused Deterrence approach is the coordinating of information and resources across criminal justice agencies to ensure swift, certain and fair punishment for any additional crimes committed by those in the program. This proved to be a challenge in the initial pilot program that ran from January 2018 to November 2019. Participants in the pilot program who committed additional crimes were swiftly arrested, but it often took several months for their cases to be heard in court following their initial bond hearing. Additionally, when probation requested court-administered sanctions for supervision violations (e.g. jail time, electronic monitoring, probation revocation), the process often took several weeks, in part because judges and prosecutors were not always familiar with the aims of the program.
To ensure that arrests and serious supervision violations are addressed swiftly in court, the current iteration of the Focused Deterrence program secured funding for a dedicated Assistant State’s Attorney to handle any cases involving Focused Deterrence program participants in a timely manner. Additionally, early on, the Operations Team presented the program to judges to ensure understanding. Further, the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office has collaborated with the Winnebago County Adult Probation Department and the Circuit Court to develop an expedited process for addressing probation violations in court. This active collaboration has targeted the ‘swift’ component of focused deterrence theory by increasing the speed with which the system responds to violations and highlights the collaborative nature of the program.
Our analyses show that most participants choose to engage with the Navigator and take advantage of the social service offerings. Following the call-in, 70% of the 66 participants completed an intake to begin receiving services and set at least one goal with the Navigator. These goals include starting a GED program, drafting a resume, obtaining a driver’s license, and securing full time employment. While this is a relatively high uptake for voluntary services (compared to similar interventions conducted in other locations), the Navigator noted that it has been harder to maintain engagement with participants than it was during the pilot program conducted in 2018, when 88% of all participants engaged with the Navigator. In the current iteration, 88% of individuals on probation and 66% of individuals on parole had some engagement with the Navigator.
Several factors may help explain lower participant engagement in services this time around. First, it’s possible that the current participants are higher risk, and less receptive to social services than those who participated in the pilot. During the pilot program, parole did not have an objective risk assessment tool for identifying potential program participants; parole agents recommended those on their caseloads who had characteristics that placed them at a risk of gun violence (i.e. being relatively young and having a history of gun violence) and seemed to them likely to benefit from the services provided. Since that pilot study, the Illinois Department of Corrections’ Parole Division has developed an objective risk assessment tool to determine criminogenic risk and supervision level. It’s possible that individuals from parole who are selected for the program using this assessment tool are higher risk and more difficult to engage than those identified by parole agents in the pilot program.
Another possible explanation for the fall-off in participant engagement (at least amongst participants on parole) may be related to shifts in how program participants on parole are supervised. During the pilot program, Rockford’s parole office had the staffing and resources to consolidate all of the Focused Deterrence program participants onto a single parole agents’s caseload. To better prepare participants for the Call-In and increase the likelihood they would be receptive to the Navigator’s services, the parole agent assigned to focused deterrence program participants decided to meet individually with each participant prior to the Call-In to explain why they had been selected for the Call-In and what the Call-In entailed, and to personally encourage them to take advantage of the Navigator’s services. This same officer attended the Operations Meetings and coordinated with the Navigator to encourage and facilitate engagement with services. In the first year of the current iteration of the Focused Deterrence Program, however, the Rockford Parole office transitioned to new leadership, hired several new parole agents and redistributed caseloads by geographic location. Focused deterrence participants on parole were distributed across several agent’s caseloads, most of whom had little understanding of what the program is. Rather than an in-person invitation to the Call-In and explanation of the program, program participants on parole are now provided with a letter explaining that they are mandated to attend the Call-In meeting and communication about the program between the Navigator, parole agents and participants is greatly reduced. It’s likely that this method of introduction to the Call-In and the Navigator’s services is less encouraging of engagement. In response, the Rockford parole office is considering whether it would be feasible to assign a single parole agend to the Focused Deterrence participants. . Recidivism analyses conducted in March of 2023 showed that 86% of the sample had not been arrested for any new crimes in Winnebago County since they began the program. Of the 9 participants that had been arrested for a new crime, 5 were arrested for unlawful possession of a weapon, 2 were arrested for aggravated battery/domestic violence, 1 was arrested for possession of a controlled substance, and 1 was arrested for murder. Additionally, one participant died as a result of gun violence. This participant was killed in Rockford in a shooting in October of 2022.
Overall, the low rate of new arrests is an encouraging finding. However, it is important to note that some participants had recently entered the program when the recidivism analyses were conducted and therefore have not been at risk of new arrest for much time, pointing to the importance of continued longer-term analyses of recidivism during the rest of the program. Analysis of the pilot program showed that 65% of participants were not arrested for a new crime, so a comparison of recidivism between the pilot participants and the current participants will be a point of interest in the future. As the Rockford Focused Deterrence program progresses, the Center will continue to collaborate with the partners to evaluate the program’s implementation and impact.